Amidst the world-shattering wreckage of post-Transfer Deadline Day, society slowly begins piece itself back together. Non-football fans (Or “Heathens” to Sky officials) crawl out of their bomb shelters to survey what remains of civilisation, only for them to realise that all that hype was for nought. Some footballers left their clubs, most didn’t, and none of it was surprising. Yet, while Sky’s month-long early warning system (colloquially known as “Advertising”) put NORAD to shame, us Leeds fans knew what to expect.
Or so we thought. We knew we weren’t going to make a last-minute, multi-minute super signing, but most of us were half-expecting the news that one of our key players would be sold, probably to Norwich. But as we watched National Jim White Appreciation Day through the cracks in between our fingers, we were forever left waiting. As the clock struck 11.00pm on Deadline Day, Leeds fans had to face facts: For the first time in years, we made it through a transfer window without losing our best players.
Aside from the back-of-the-mind anxiety that GFH would accept a late bid for Sam Byram or Tom Lees, Leeds fans sat comfortably, taking in the annual sight of Jim White getting overly excited about moves such as Barry Bannan to Crystal Palace.
Fans of other clubs weren’t so lucky. Arsenal fans, still dealing with the frugality that prevented them from signing the much-needed Higuaín, had to wait and see if they’d fail once more in their attempt to poach more of Real Madrid’s sloppy seconds, knowing that if the Özil deal fell through they’d be stuck offering £20-30 million for Demba Ba, or for somebody, anybody, to comfort-buy. Fans of You-know-who were left reeling when Guillem Balague announced that the Herrera deal was dead due to “Bureaucratic reasons”. As in You-know-who never sent any authorised bureaucrats to complete the transfer.
So, while Arsenal had to swallow their pride and write a cheque for once and You-know-who had to bend over and relax to get their hands on Fellaini, Leeds could relax knowing that for once they didn’t embarrass themselves in the transfer window.
There was almost an air of satisfaction surrounding our business decisions this summer, but some fans were still underwhelmed. I ask those fans to reconsider their position. Maybe they expected too much. Maybe they just fail to see the significance of this window for Leeds United.
You see, for the first time in far too long, we’ve been successful in a transfer window. We are Bates-free and GFH want to show it. We didn’t sell our best player to Norwich for a pittance, and not only did we keep Ross McCormack, fending off multiple offers from Middlesbrough, but we got him to agree to a contract extension. As well as keeping our best players, but we added to the squad, buying Luke Murphy, Scott Wootton, Matt Smith and *ahem* Noel Hunt.
Under GFH we have now signed two players for a £1 million each. And they were under 30! The additions of Luke Murphy and Scott Wootton at part of the show of ambition Leeds fans have been clamouring for since the prolonged takeover was nearing completion.
This isn’t so much a step in the right direction as it is securing a foothold; for once, we exit a transfer window with a better squad than when we entered it and for once we honestly look like we could challenge rather comfortably for a play-off place, so long as we stay the course.
With Bates finally exorcized from United, GFH have begun to undo the damage, slowly but surely. Brian McDermott didn’t buy players just for the sake of buying players. With the exception of Hunt we haven’t wasted money on has-beens or never-weres. We added youth and ability to our squad in Murphy and Wootton, and while Smith mightn’t be the most gifted of footballers there’s no doubt in my mind that McDermott, a much more tactically intelligent manager than Warnock, will be able to utilise the giant in ways beneficial to the team.
But to indulge my cynical side for a moment, it should be mentioned that while the window was a triumph of sensibility over self-destruction, it wasn’t perfect by any means. Leeds still need at least one winger and another out-and-out striker. We failed to cut away enough of the deadwood to free up wages that could’ve attracted half-decent players.
But, under the right circumstances, even deadwood floats. We haven’t bought a winger or a striker, but we’ve called up, rather than loaned out, a number of youth players such as Poleon, Mowatt and Dawson.
Poleon, fast and strong, has the best attributes of McCormack and Smith, if lacking the experience, but he has youth on his side and can only get better. Ryan Hall, apparently a winger, is still on our books and maybe he’ll get a look in with McDermott as manager and come good.
Sure, Brown, Norris and Pugh are still picking up GFH-signed paycheques, but there’s always the next window the shift them off to some poor club that doesn’t know any better.
Thanks to McDermott’s calling up of youth players, the purchasing of Murphy and Wootton, and the retention of McCormack, we now have two things we didn’t have this time last season; depth and options.
While McDermott’s tactical versatility basically amounts to putting round pegs in round holes, there’s no denying that his tactical nous and the options the squad’s depth offers him have proven to be a great combination: three times we’ve gone a goal down in the league this season and we’ve come back to rescue a draw once and win twice.
We lost our first game to the Mad Millionaires QPR last weekend by a goal to nil, and while we fought hard and played well, it was evident that we never really threatened to score. This was partly because we are short a 15-a-season striker, but mostly because QPR have one of the most expensively assembled squads in English football, pretty much the exact type of squad that financial fair play is meant to take care of but is a long way off doing so.
This loss was coming, but it doesn’t prove much of anything and doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know about all involved.
So, to those naysayers, take note. No, in this transfer window we haven’t moved , but we’ve stood firm. We’re shaking off the Bates-ification of Leeds United. We’re still going to be marching on together, but this time, in the right direction.